Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wars Are Always Cock-Ups

According to my veteran relatives, wars are a series of tragic and unpredictable errors (Brit "cock-up"). But John McCain says wars can be planned, so in my book that makes him a fool or knave.

Consider the peaceful example of building software. The designers meticulously plumb the users' needs, the software architects assess components and select the best, the developers build the code using techniques carefully designed to minimize errors, and armies of testers exhaustively test.

And it still doesn't work. Look at the Intel Mac - its applications crash, it runs unbearably hot and/or noisily, and its emulated software limps along at glacial pace (I'm sure Vista will be worse).

Now consider how much harder it is to fight a war. The participants are rarely experienced (one combat officer remarked dryly that his troops were infant-ry), everything is being done for the first time, participants risk death and mutilation, much decision making is real-time, and the equipment is usually being operated in an unforgiving environment.

And above all there's the enemy, who uses great ingenuity to stop you killing him and to kill you. My first anti-aircraft missile worked great on target drones, but less well against enemy planes - men don't want to die, but drones don't care.

So what are we to make of these remarks by Senator John McCain (my ellipsis)?
"I think one of the biggest mistakes we made (in Iraq) was underestimating the size of the task and the sacrifices that would be required," McCain said. "Stuff happens, mission accomplished, last throes, a few dead-enders. I'm just more familiar with those statements than anyone else because it grieves me so much that we had not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be."
That's because nobody knew!

Just as nobody knew in WW2 that the Brits would trash the mighty Luftwaffe, that the Dieppe Raid would be a disaster, or that the costly allied campaign to build China as its base to invade Japan was unnecessary because of the US island hopping and A bomb. And a million other cock-ups then and since.

All military men should know wars never run to plan. If McCain doesn't, or pretends he doesn't, he'd make a lousy Commander in Chief.